BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court jailed a woman for five years on Wednesday for posting online comments insulting to the monarchy, the second ruling of its kind this week under tough lese-majeste laws carrying penalties activists say are too harsh.
A judge ruled Noppawan Tangudomsuk, nicknamed “Bento”, posted messages in 2008 on the web board of news website Prachatai that were deemed offensive to the monarchy, a breach of Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, a controversial law passed by a legislature hand-picked by generals after a 2006 coup.
“Investigations determined the computer’s IP address and showed that the messages posted originated from the defendant’s computer,” said the judge when reading the verdict.
Thailand has some of the world’s toughest lese-majeste laws, with royal insults punishable by up to 15 years in prison for each offence committed.
The ruling overturned a criminal court’s dismissal of the case in 2011 on the grounds there was insufficient evidence to show Noppawan posted the comments herself.
Her sentence follows a two-year prison term handed down on Tuesday to Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon and founder of Thailand’s royalist “yellow shirt” movement. He was ruled to have defamed the monarchy by repeating during a public speech comments deemed offensive made by a political opponent.
Thailand’s 85-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is often portrayed as an almost divine figure. Even though the king said in a 2005 speech that he should not be above criticism, the number of lese-majeste cases has spiraled following the 2006 coup that toppled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was accused of republican sympathies.
His sister, Yingluck, is now prime minister and has been reluctant to pursue any kind of amendment to the laws, despite pressure from Thaksin’s most loyal supporters, the “red shirt” movement, whose votes swept her to power in 2011.
Independent political analysts say Yingluck is treading carefully, avoiding Thailand’s most sensitive issue to ensure her brother’s enemies among the military and conservative elite have no legal pretext to move against her government.
David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based expert on the lese-majeste laws, said many of the recent court verdicts were cases launched under previous governments, but there was no sign the current one would review the laws.
“We cannot point the finger solely at Yingluck and her administration,” he said. “On the other hand, sentences are not getting any lighter and Yingluck’s government certainly hasn’t tried to alter the public discourse on this topic.”
Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel